Out of the Story’s Nebula: Structure in the Second Draft

Every manuscript is its own creature. Some stories are upfront, divulging so much information your fingers can’t type fast enough.

The first draft of Pierce My Heart, a meager 15K, was meant to be a concise introduction to the fae and their world. But my crit group pointed out that I could do one of two things: Scale back the conflict and keep it short, or dig into a more complex plot and expand.

I chose to expand. Pierce My Heart weaves together a dark, gritty who-done-it and a love story. Lithe and Garien’s potential romance is fraught with conflicts, namely, Lithe’s status as an outsider. Lithe’s chief conflict is a struggle within herself to face and accept who she is. The murder that she and Garien must solve serves as an external reminder of that conflict and why she can’t give herself to Garien.

When I sat down to write draft two, something strange happened with this story.

It sort of, well, opened up, and blew apart. It went from a tight little story to this nebulous creature I can’t pin down.

And strangest of all, I can’t shake the feeling that my characters—or the story itself—are hiding something from me.

There are several things of which I am sure:

1. This is a good story with plenty of potential. The pieces are there, even if I can’t figure out how they fit together.

2. The issue is one of form and structure.

3. I am overlooking something, and it will drive me crazy until I figure out what.

4. I am capable of figuring out what that something is.

So, fellow writers, have you been there? What do you do when a story enters the nebula, when you feel like you’re missing something but you don’t know what? How do you help the manuscript find or retake its shape?

A few days ago, I mentioned on Twitter that my “creative mojo” appeared to be missing. Debra Krager (@debrakristi) sagely advised: “You need a mojo lifter? Maybe a weekend off. Do something different and fun to find it.” She also blogged about this very subject here. (Timing really is everything.)

Somehow I have to work this weekend (day-job stuff). I’m not thrilled, but deadlines are deadlines, and no one’s going to hold the presses so I can have some fun.

But heck, maybe I’ll squeeze it in anyway. Perhaps a dose of silly creativity will give me the jolt I need to put the pieces together.

On failure, discipline, and other life lessons from writing

A lot of what I’ve learned as a writer has helped me in my life outside of writing. It’s not just that writing and effective communication skills are valuable assets (which they are!), but that the trials and tribulations of building a writing career make us stronger, if only we’re willing to learn from them. I think two of the biggest things I’ve learned from my writing career so far are the ability to learn from failure and the importance of discipline, which is a combination of goal-setting, dedication, and follow-through.

Failure:

Whether it’s a rejection, a bad review, or simply acknowledging that a story or a scene isn’t working, we can turn failure into a means to achieve our goals. We can fight failure or blame it on others. We can say the market isn’t ready. We can say family constraints got in the way of our writing. Those things might be true. But the only thing we can control is ourselves, not the market, not the situation. When we do this, failure can become a learning experience. When we were kids, we fell when learning how to walk, and yet we learned anyway. Failure is harder for grownups, but still valuable.

I’m one of those stubborn optimists in life who’s always insisting that you have to risk failure to succeed. The most successful people in life are those who are willing to take professional risks. Now, they have to be calculated risks. You can’t just jump off a proverbial cliff to test if you can fly. You have to do research, learn the right skills, and put those skills to work. But ultimately, we will risk rejection, bad reviews, and even snarky comments, to put our writing to the test. It’s the only way to succeed. And then, when we fail, we reassess and try again, armed with the knowledge we’ve gained.

Discipline:

So many of us “creative types” are thinkers, and it’s easy to get stuck in our heads brainstorming and never put our fingers to the keyboard. Sometimes I take a walk and listen to the birds and admire the trees, and while it might be a vital part of my life or my writing process, it’s not going to get the book done. Unless you’re a published writer with an agent and editor and tight deadlines, no one is leaning over you telling you to get this done. Indie writers have their fellow writers, crit partners, and readers to hold them to deadlines. Especially in the beginning, when you’re setting your own deadlines, it’s easy to say, “I’ll get there when I get there.” No two writers will have the same process.

You can reach out to other writers on Twitter (hashtags like #amwriting, #amediting, #writegoal, #MyWANA, or #1k1hr) or blogs (A Round of Words in 80 Days, http://aroundofwordsin80days, or #ROW80) or participate in NaNoWriMo. Or you can build your own goals and stick to them. You have to find the process that works for you (even if it’s trial and error, and there’s failure involved along the way) and stick to it. If great ideas made great writers, there would be a lot more great books in the world. But the great idea has to be in the hands of someone dedicated enough to follow the story and polish it until the words sing.

We have to be willing to just breathe through the failures, which are a necessary part of success. In investing, the greater the potential yields of an investment, the higher the risk. And writing is a risky business. You have to be willing to weather the storms. And discipline, even if we have days where we totally blow our writing quota, helps us hone our craft and accomplish our goals. And both require us to just breathe through the process. As I continue my journey, I know there are plenty more lessons in store.

What life lesson has writing taught you?

Working with characters during revision

An alternate title for this post was: Dealing with Zoe.

See, I love Zoe, the female lead in Made of Shadows. She’s intense, passionate, fiery, compassionate, and maybe a little nuts. Okay, a little might be understating. Zoe is a woman on the edge. The martial arts skills and motorcycle don’t help.

photo from stock.xchng

So when editing Zoe’s story, sometimes it’s hard to tone her down. I realize I need a little distance from MOS to see the places where Zoe’s zest is adding to the plot and when it’s just distracting. Like I said, I care about her. I want the reader to care about her, too, which means I’ll have to learn to love her a little less, so I can edit her story properly.

She’s an absolute contrast to Lithe, of Pierce My Heart, my other WIP. Lithe is a soft-spoken introvert. She’s also a tough-as-nails fae investigator, but her motto, if she had one, would be, “Grace under pressure.” Sometimes I’ve worried that Lithe’s voice isn’t strong enough. Unlike Zoe, I worry that there’s not enough of Lithe shining through in the story.

Thus, one of my primary focuses for the next few months is going to be character development.

Our characters need to be relatable and likable. If the reader doesn’t care about what happens to Zoe or Lithe, then why keep reading? We want our readers to love the characters as much as we do. And if we’ve stuck around long enough to tell their stories, chances are that we do love them.

What complicates the issue is that our characters need to be consistent. This doesn’t just mean that in chapter one our character (let’s call her Lucinda) is a diehard vegetarian and in the next chapter she’s woofing down filet mignon. Character consistency is about more than favorite foods and hair color–it’s about the psyches of our characters, who they are deep down and how that influences their actions.

"Rodrigo, your kisses rock my world. Let me tell you my deepest, darkest secrets."

If Lucinda is perennially mistrustful, we need to make sure she doesn’t just easily open up to other characters. (As in, “Oh, Rodrigo, you’re a really good kisser. Why don’t I tell you about my traumatic childhood?”) Every action needs to be consistent with who she is. It’s not just about what the author wants to happen or where the plot needs to go; it’s about what Lucinda would do next, or what she would do given the next progression in the story. So if she opens up to Rodrigo, there needs to be a damn good reason, and one that’s consistent with her character.

But Lucinda also needs to change, affected by the circumstances of the plot and her interactions with other characters. Lucinda on page 1 can’t solve the situation (say, defeat the bad guy). If she could, we wouldn’t be writing a novel about her. Something has to happen between page 1 and page 300 that allows her to emerge victorious (if that’s the plot). Lucinda needs to change.

The character arc needs to mesh with the plot arc. Maybe Lucinda learns to trust, and trusting allows her to let someone in who can help her defeat the bad guys. She changes from a loner to someone capable of teamwork and trust.

And that’s where I’m at right now: reading books and blogs about character development. I know my characters. I need to make sure the reader does as well, and that each action is believable and appropriate. I hit a turning point while writing MOS. I’d been stuck for a while, not knowing where the story should go next. I tried a new approach. I stepped back  and asked, “What would Blake do?” Ah, bingo. “And what would Zoe’s reaction be?” Ah, naturally. I let the characters drive the story, and the plot unfolded before me.

What about you? What are your stumbling blocks with character? Any advice for working with character during the revision stage?

Turning points: Devoted pantser learns to plot (maybe just a little)

So, who isn’t trying to survive this week’s massive East-Coast heat wave? At least in Virginia, we have air conditioning pretty much anywhere you go. My parents’ (in western PA) only form of AC is a good breeze. Most of the restaurants there don’t even have air conditioning units. Hoping everyone is managing to stay cool.

As I complete draft 2 of Blake and Zoe’s story (a whopping 102K at present, but I’m already cutting), I’ve started to plan out my writing schedule/goals for the next year or so, one of which is a novella that’s been spinning in my head for the last few months.

That novella is the catalyst for this post’s title. I had been jotting ideas down for months in one of my handy little notebooks. Yesterday, I rewarded myself by typing out the bits and pieces of scenes for that novella. What emerged really surprised me. I realized that what I’m witnessing with this new story is a break from my writing process in the past, courtesy of the learning process I’ve gone through while writing about Blake and Zoe.

I found that, thanks to plenty of brainstorming, I had actually created a fully outlined plot without having to write a full draft or two to get there. I’ve always been a dedicated pantser, believing that my plots needed to unfold as I wrote—which usually meant I wrote sometimes hundreds of pages that would never be used. Lots of meaningless chatter on the parts of my characters.

My pantser approach resembled that Sidney Harris cartoon of two men looking at a chalkboard. “I think you should be more explicit in step two,” one of them says. Step two reads, “A miracle occurs.” (The cartoon is copyrighted, but available for viewing here). I’ve learned that my process works better when I’m just a tad more explicit about what needs to happen between steps one and three.

Now, my experience writing Blake and Zoe’s story wasn’t just about one novel; during the process, I developed an entire world where many future stories will be set. I met plenty of new characters in that world who have stories waiting to be told. But I also learned that I can, in fact, start out writing with a much firmer idea than I had in the past. As a result, I hope my first drafts will be more cohesive and more polished.

That doesn’t mean I know every detail of what happens. Sometimes I’ll know that x will happen. I don’t particularly know what shape x will take. I’ll say, they go to y, or they meet z. I haven’t figured out everything about where y is or who z is. But I have an overarching view of what needs to happen. I can discover the particulars along the way.

So, am I a reformed pantser turned dedicated plotter? Like many writers, I’m probably somewhere in the middle. Like most of us, I’m not where I started out a few years ago, just stumbling into a fictional world without a clue of what’s going on. My brainstorming process has grown stronger, and my desire to outline, however roughly, has increased. I’ll blame it on my own learning process, plenty of writing books, playing careful attention to the plot and structure of books I enjoy, and reading about other authors’ writing processes.

The Tortoise and the Hare:

I’m one of those people who has a core of yin energy wrapped up in a whirlwind of yang. I’m both a dreamer and a type-A personality. Those who are close to me are no doubt all-too familiar with my ability to simultaneously attract chaos while remaining annoyingly optimistic.

I’ve only recently discovered how much this informs my approach to writing, in which I am both the tortoise and the hare. If I have a writing day where, whether for lack of time or because I’m rewriting, adding/deleting, or revising, I only write a few hundred words, I still add it into the total marked on the white-board in my office. Because, in my view, every little thing, every word written or deleted; every revelation about my character, my world, or my story; and every footfall on the path of my writing career is progress. Slow, steady progress is still progress. And so, onward I go.

And, of course, what writer isn’t the hare? Many of us can crank out a few-thous words come crunch time, but isn’t far more pleasant to say, “Oh, I have [insert amount of time here]. Maybe I’ll write in my blog. Maybe I’ll go on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or MySpace. Or maybe I’ll pick up a few writing books on Amazon. Oh! My e-mail…”

So, inevitably, as the fable goes, the tortoise reaches the end: score one for slow, steady approaches to larger goals. Word by word, scene by scene, moment by moment, and day by day, a story is written.

But whether I’m in tortoise or hare mode, I still have to live with those goals in mind. Finish this story, read this book, write x number of words. Having my goals keeps me grounded. And a bit of hectic hare energy is good every once in a while. When utilized properly, those swift days allow you to crawl into bed exhausted but full of a sense of accomplishment. And accomplishment can serve as a motivation, getting you excited for whatever the next day or chapter brings.

For me, I have my white board, on which I list my current WIPs, with word-count goals and a space for a current tally. Of course, I also have stickies on my computer desktop and yellow notepads full of lists and notes to myself. But the white board helps me stay on track, focusing on the work at hand, but with an end-goal in mind. It prevents me from getting sidetracked by those other projects that line my path, screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!”

So I’m curious about everyone else. How do you keep yourself on track toward your writing goals? What tools or strategies do you use to help meet your daily writing goals and work toward larger ones?

🙂

Wondrously formed:

“I have found when I tried or looked deeper inside/ What appears unadorned might be wondrously formed.” ~ Carrie Newcomer, “Geodes

I reached a point today in revising where the story just opened up; it let me in. I always talk about finding the heart of the story, the place where it sings. I caught a hint of that melody today. I’ve always known it was there in this story. My main characters, Zoe and Blake, are the kind of people who’ve had to keep a lot of their emotions and struggles on the inside. Zoe in particular isn’t good at being vulnerable and letting anyone in. Yes, sometimes me included. So when the story opened up tonight, even if I don’t have the plot hammered out, I found the haunting music of their story.

And isn’t looking inside, looking deeper, what being a writer is all about? Journalists dig for facts; poets search for images in the everyday. Storytellers, we’re all searching for heart, for meaning. Our characters change during the course of the story. But so does the writer. I don’t think I’m the same person at the end of the story as I am at the beginning. I’ve always known the characters change, the story changes, the words on the page are changed again and again. But the personal transformation of the artist. I’ve known it was there. Tonight I’m very aware of how my characters and their tale are affecting me–not just as a writer, but as a person.

I’m almost afraid to say it. It’s like a dream that might slip back into the fog; a butterfly landing on an outstretched hand. I don’t want to scare the story away. But it’s those moments that remind me why I’m a writer. They remind me of the kind of person I am. Someone who’s always looking for meaning in the world around me. Not larger-than-life meaning. But the things that give life meaning. A grandmother’s kitchen. An old love letter. An inside joke. A place that brings back a hint of a memory we can’t quite recall.

I’ve been told I like “sad” things. My husband just mentioned it today, as we were listening to the song above. Sad songs, sad books, sad movies: He’s not the first one to say it. Which I find odd, because I don’t think I like sad things. I love beauty. I love things with spirit, and meaning, and depth. I like to look down into the deep places of my soul. That’s where art comes from. That’s where love comes from.

Yes, I, too, have found that what appears unadorned might be wondrously formed. The simplest words can make magic when they come together in just the right way. A few brush strokes can make us feel something we can’t even identify. The perfect image can break us and make us whole at the same time.

The story I’m writing has a long way to go. Some days I’ll feel in tune with it. Other days I might feel as though I’m trying to pick the lock or use a battering ram to break in. Somewhere inside is the place where my characters are changing. And finding that place, I think, will change me as well.

Here are some of the lyrics to "Geodes," if anyone is interested:

How DID Stella get her groove back?

In the fall, I turned my attention to teaching, to helping others become stronger writers. My days were full of day job No. 1 (PR-type writing) and teaching: meetings, conversations with students, photocopying, and long rounds of e-mailing. My nights were full of lesson-planning, lecture-writing, creating assignment sheets and tests, and, because I teach an upper-level writing course, lots and lots of grading, writing line edits and comments until I thought my hand might fall off. And you know what? My students make it worth it. When I bring that kind of dedication, I see confused students find a voice, I see strong students grow stronger, I see my enthusiasm reflected in their eyes and their work. And that makes the late nights worthwhile.

What suffers, though, is my creative work. I worked on a few small projects, but I wasn’t able to finish anything. By the end of 2010, I felt drained. Even though I accomplished a great deal (I wrote about 2/3 of current WIP), it didn’t feel that way.

So now here I am, with a semester off from teaching, ready to throw myself back into my novel with all of the energy and passion that I did last summer. But picking up where I left off isn’t as easy as I had hoped. And that feeling, that sinking feeling of being stuck, it’s starting to get to me. I’m writing slowly, but I feel disconnected from my work and my characters. I worry a lot, about not being able to get to where I want to go–to finish this story, to write the next one, to reach the level of writing I want to reach. Thoughts of finding an agent and becoming a published writer leave me dizzy. So I’m trying to live for this scene, this day, this moment. But I can’t shake the gnawing feeling in my gut that I’m spinning my wheels.

But I don’t give up writing. Maybe it’s one of those “If you build it, they will come,” scenarios. If I keep writing, the muses will tiptoe in the door. If I put my fingers on the keyboard, the story will begin to seep out of me. If I sit in that space each day and just keep writing, the characters will start telling me their stories again.

So writers, we all get stuck. Do you ever struggle with getting back into a story once you’ve left it for a while? What helps you get back into the swing of things? How do you get back into the groove of the story?

Writing is not an easy profession, especially when you’re starting out, when you’re writing a story you don’t know if anyone besides your crit group will ever read. I just have faith that the story is an end unto itself, that it’s finishing the story, not publishing it, that matters. Writing a fantastic story, one that sings on the page, even if it takes me years, that’s the goal. The other stuff will come later.

I know the passion is there, simmering beneath the surface. The key to writing, as we like to say, is just to write. But how do you get back to the story when you just feel STUCK, when you’re writing but you feel removed from it and it doesn’t seem to get you (or the story) where you need to go? Writers, I’m curious about your personal experiences with your own stories. Any thoughts?

Old friends:

Old stories, like old friends, are calling. I’m wondering if I should answer.

Maybe it’s that my brain is suddenly open to the possibilities. There’s now a much larger space for creativity and art in my life.

I’ve always wanted to do so many different things. Life is too short and the world too diverse to focus only on one small part of the human experience. My favorite vacation spot: one I’ve never been to before. My fave color: I have to pick just one? Hmm … The golden yellow of dawn, the flamboyance of turquoise and the coolness of teal, the in-your-face pop of fuchsia, the juicy tartness of bright green. Bob Dylan, Jewel, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi, Katy Perry–all have a place on my mp3 player. I have favorites, but my greatest joy is learning and expanding my knowledge. Variety is the spice of life (yes, I know, spoken like a true Sagittarius).

Maybe that’s why I chose to be a writer. Writing takes us to places mundane and extraordinary. We can go from a wardrobe to Narnia, down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass to Wonderland. When the writing is at its best, we journey deep inside of ourselves.

So when I brew a pot of tea and finally sit down at my computer, I find myself surrounded by characters and stories, all practically shouting, ‘Pick me!’ So many creatures, from dark elves to house sprites, and characters, from Harvard students who dig archeology to women who kick ass in the ring and in the boardroom, from seasoned witches to those just learning about magic, are right there, waiting for me to enter their stories and continue writing.

I’ve learned enough to know that stories don’t get told if I stop writing every time another tale or character knocks at the door. Every manuscript takes dedication; I keep writing even if I start spinning my wheels. Writing is a journey into uncharted territory; of course the roads are winding and rocky. But you can’t just leave the story stuck in the mud. Yep, I know that. It’s the effort, the struggles, the problem-solving that makes writing such an adventure.

I love so many different types of books–different tones, different genres, different types of characters, etc. From a career standpoint, I worry about the pitfalls of wanting to write in a number of different genres. It’s not a matter of dedication. It’s just that so many different parts of the human experience have value, and I want to explore those experiences as an artist. And many writers have done this (Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Alice Hoffman come to mind). For now, I’m following my heart. Every one of us has a unique path–we have our stories, just as our characters have theirs.

It’s nice to know those old stories and characters (yes, Neesa, I know, you’re not old, per se) are still in there somewhere. It means they’ve stuck with me, and maybe if they have staying power for me as a writer, they’ll have meaning for readers as well.

But it’s one word, one scene, one story at a time. And just like a road trip, you can’t be en route to South Dakota and suddenly decide you want to go to Maine. But just because you’re on your way to the Badlands now, that doesn’t mean that Acadia National Park can’t be part of your journey later.

Well, I’m off. Going to put some chains on the tires and keep on truckin’.

The ‘Secret’ of Writing: Write

Wait, that can’t be right? Can it?

After a long hiatus, I’m returning to LJ *sound of trumpets*, a little ragged and weary after a whirlwind end of the semester. While I absolutely love teaching writing, the amount of feedback I give my students could trigger carpal tunnel, and it certainly keeps me up until all hours of the night. But hearing back from them after the semester ends reminds me that it’s all worth it. I had a student write to me over the summer to thank me for how helpful my class was to me in her internship. You don’t always get that kind of feedback, but it’s nice to know that all of that red ink hasn’t been for naught.

Ah, so on to a new challenge then: the blank page. I’m returning to a manuscript that I paused on in August to focus on teaching. It can be hard to regain momentum, but after a couple years of striving for a balance, I’m starting to find an approach to writing discipline that works for me. Even if my writing routine varies, my dedication to the story doesn’t waver. Writing exercises, manuscript critiques, small side projects, all of these things keep going throughout the semester and make sure my current novel-length WIP is never far from my mind.

Writers know that real writing isn’t jotting down a neat idea or writing an opening scene. Real writing is sticking to a project, even when the writing sucks (‘cuz sometimes it does), even when it’s exhausting and feels endless. Because if the product of writing is a story (or poem, play, song, etc.) then the end result needs to be a story. Just like art isn’t a bunch of doodles, just as a song isn’t a tune that came to you in the middle of the night, being a writer means having the discipline to write and finish your projects, whatever they might be.

And true writers know this. The key to writing is discipline. Sure, writing is creative, writing is spiritual, and writing fills the blank page and makes something out of nothing (or so it might seem). But in order to be a writer, we have to create that something.

So when a non-writer says to me (so sure of him/herself), “I have this great idea that you should write into a story,” I politely say, “I have enough ideas. But you should write that.” Writing isn’t a great idea. A great idea is a “triggering town”–that little blink-and-you-miss-it town you drive through on your way to your destination.

Inspiration is great. Full-fledged stories take work, dedication, and discipline.

Discipline and dedication in the process of writing come in many shapes and sizes. Some writers wake at 5 a.m.; some work until 5 a.m. Some work 9 to 5; others carve out an hour or two each day to write. There’s no magic formula. Because I teach, my schedule varies throughout the year. I sometimes feel guilty when I’m grading papers while my other writer friends are revising their work. Because of my schedule, my writing moves slower than others’ might. But I still have a schedule, even if it varies. My dedication to finishing the piece doesn’t change, regardless of the time of year.

When another writer talks about her/his writing practice/schedule/routine, I think we need to keep in mind that every approach is individual. We can incorporate aspects of that approach into our work (writing at a coffee shop was some of the best advice I’ve ever received), but we need to find what works for us.

One of the worst things we can do is to feel guilty because we read that another writer, whether best-selling author or aspiring, has a higher word count per day, or writes 9 to 5, or writes every day. Those can be crippling if they don’t fit into the reality of your life. If you only write three or four days a week, that’s still good progress. I write four days a week, about three hours each day, when class isn’t in session. This doesn’t count time at crit groups, networking with fellow writers, reading in my genre, reading books about writing, critiquing others’ work, writing in this blog, etc.

As long as you have a schedule that works for you, that’s what counts.

And so, as I finish a semester of teaching writing and begin a season in which I focus more on my own creative endeavors, I find myself examining the uniqueness of every writer’s approach to discipline. People outside of the field may marvel at the craft of writing. But it’s as much discipline as it is creativity.

So tell me, what approach works best for you? Has it changed over time? And how did you find the best approach to the process?

Boy Talk: Writing the Male POV

I’ve been writing fiction since age 12 (if not earlier), and I’ve almost always written from the female POV. In my early years, I attribute it to a couple things: one, a leaning toward “write what you know” (i.e., as a girl, I found it easier to write from the POV of my female characters); and, two, my desire for fantasy books featuring strong female leads. I had a strong hunger for novels by writers like Tamora Pierce and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I realize that I was writing the kinds of books that I wanted to read, and those books involved strong female leads.

Considering that I grew up with two brothers and am married to a man I’ve known more than a decade, I assumed writing from the male perspective would come more easily. I often find myself pausing to think, “How would this man (character) approach this situation?” Our cultural upbringing has led us to communicate differently; where one places value and sees importance, how one handles a given situation, how one approaches conflict or strong emotion is driven not only by personality but also by gender. It varies from person to person, and gender is a part of that equation.

Getting inside my guys’ heads is always interesting to me; I often worry that I might fall into the trap of writing a male POV in a female voice. Since my novels and short stories are written from both the POV of the male and female protagonist, I don’t want to fall into the trap of writing the man’s perspective in my female lead’s voice. I strive for the depth and complexity that I know is in each character; I want them to be alive—deep and rich and passionate and electric. I want each word and phrase to hum with the energy of that character.

Perhaps because my latest character, an elf-investigator in a short story, is so different from me, I’ve found him a more challenging character. This is perhaps what I love most about him, that he’s somewhat of a mystery to me, that he isn’t just telling me who he is and is leaving me to figure him out. I find myself following him through his life in his world, trying to discern what motivates him, what his pet peeves are, his mannerisms, his thought processes. More than any other character before, he makes me try hard to get into his head and find his voice, his spirit. It’s a great challenge. I find that he’s one of those characters who will challenge me as a writer and that, even if I only get to spend a short story with him, he’ll be in my head for a while.

Writers like Cheyenne McCray and Sherrilyn Kenyon have provided me with examples of strong, well-developed male leads with wonderful voices, so I’m sure in the days to come I’ll be pouring through the pages of some of their works. McCray’s Keir in Wicked Magic has always fascinated me; there’s something about the tough male character whose ability to work as a delicate artist (whittling in careful detail) hints at an inner gentleness. The edginess of Kenyon’s character Dev in “No Mercy,” his temper combined with an off-the-wall sense of humor, makes him a fascinating read (I never know what’s going to pop into that man’s head next!). So here’s to hoping that this character can speak to me with the same strength that I’ve seen in other works, and that I can have the same dialogues with him that I do with some of my female characters. *cough “Zoe” cough*